What does “American cuisine” mean? Andrew Carmellini, the chef at the Dutch, a new Soho restaurant, might argue that if someone has ever served a dish in the United States at any point in time, it’s American.
Perhaps tiring of the simple art of Italian cooking at his highly regarded Tribeca restaurant, Locanda Verde, Carmellini has branched out to the former Cub Room. His bill of fare hopscotches across our mighty country while giving props to Japan, Mexico, Italy, and beyond. Yet the space feels quintessentially New York: cream-painted brick walls reminiscent of subway tiles, wooden banquettes and clubby booths, oversize windows fronting Prince and Sullivan streets, mid-century-esque chandeliers (inspired by those at Waffle House!), a flash of Keith Haring on the wall.
Be forewarned: During prime dinner hours, conversing without shouting is basically impossible. Service, while not bad, could be more attentive. Seating borders on cramped. The culinary glitterati queueing up for tables don’t seem to mind, though. Welcome to the year’s most hyped restaurant.
The food deserves the fanfare. Begin with the dressed crab appetizer. At $17, it whops at the expensive end, but you’ll discover a mountain of super-succulent meat basking in a pool of spiced, tangy tomato broth. It’s the best case of crabs you’ll ever have. Asparagus okonomiyaki ($15) takes elements of the beloved Japanese pancake snack—shrimp, pork belly, bonito, and the signature sweet sauce—and combines them with the spears to form an inspired veggie-centric starter instead. Even the beet salad ($14)—the bane of restaurant critics—deserves mentioning, thanks to the chopped, deeply smoked egg and hint of dill.
If you want to start off small, though, get the mini fried-oyster sandwich ($5). Bolstered with lettuce and a tartar sauce made with pickled okra, it is the bivalve buddy of Filet-o-Fish—in the most glorious way.
Entrée highlights include duck breast draped across a bed of flavorful, Cajun-style dirty rice studded with pecans ($28)—Southern comfort at its finest. Spice lovers will lap up the lamb neck mole ($25), a portion so large you’d think they’d served the whole sheep. Rabbit pot pie ($27), subtly flavored, comes with a billowing crust, nearly one foot above the table—you’ll revel in your neighbors’ envious glances as you fork open the seal.
Ax the diet and savor the fried chicken, swaddled in a thick, crunchy, heavily seasoned crust, accompanied by luscious honey-butter biscuits. One problem—you can only order the bird at lunch ($19), or after 11 p.m. on weekdays or 11:30 p.m. on weekends ($21), which is when a special late-night service begins. Other midday foods that reappear then: a worthy $15 burger and a drab $16 P.F. Chang–ish sloppy duck sandwich.
Also falling into the sad, pan-Asian category: a lackluster steamed black bass in a lemongrass curry broth ($29). Veal pizzaiola ($36) garnished with fried artichokes came up short, too—surprising given the chef’s pedigree.
Pastry chef Kierin Baldwin continues the globe-trotting at dessert with the delicious forbidden rice pudding ($9). Studded with chopped pineapple, mango, and—whoa there—cucumber, the mound of black grains stews in a creamy coconut base. Traditionalists, though, should stick to the ample slice of devil’s food cake layered with black-pepper icing ($10). That, or one of the excellent pies ($9–$10) on rotation, which might include a lattice-topped rhubarb option or one topped with a cumulus cloud of coconut cream.
One thing you ironically won’t find at the Dutch: Anything that might constitute food hailing from the Netherlands, home of the founders of New York. Arguably, it’s not one of the celebrated cuisines of the world. But given what he’s accomplished here, I’d wager that Andrew Carmellini could make army-green pea soup sparkle.
Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2011